Maria Sharapova left professional tennis with a lot of love for the sport still in her heart, and she’s grateful for that.
The 34-year-old announced her plans to retire in February 2020, just after the Australian Open and ahead of the start of now nearly two years of disruption to the sports world due to the coronavirus pandemic. Throughout her career, she won five Grand Slam women’s singles tournaments.
“I left the sport being in a very good place about my decision,” she tells PEOPLE now while chatting about her years-long partnership with Evian. “So I haven’t thought about that too much, but I still very much love watching the sport and following players.”
Reflecting now, Sharapova can’t ignore the strength and perseverance it took her to navigate formidable opponents and years in the spotlight.
“Overall, I was very proud of the way that I carried myself through my career, of how I handled many moments in my career, whether they were tough moments, whether they were some of the best moments of my life,” Sharapova says with confidence. “I think my philosophy was to try to be as level-headed and not get too down or overly celebratory because life changes so quickly.”
It’s something the world has obviously seen in the past two years through the pandemic: “Things just change and you have to be able to take it with as much ease as you can, even though that’s so much easier to say than to do.”
For 28 years, Sharapova says she gave everything “physically and mentally” to the sport, making for an amazing journey. The day-to-day slowdown of life the pandemic has brought on some of this reflection she admits, giving the now-businesswoman time to “appreciate.”
“But it’s also left me really excited about the future,” she says, adding, “it’s a mix of this proud, but also excited for what’s to come.”
What’s to come also includes wedding bells: Sharapova confirmed her engagement to British businessman and co-founder of online auction house Paddle 8, Alexander Gilkes, in December of last year.
Sharapova says she’s not quite sure when she’ll be walking down the aisle, as the couple is cognizant of what’s going on in the world. “I think with today’s environment, there’s so many uncertainties, we haven’t set a date,” she explains. “We actually haven’t discussed it yet because we want our friends and family to be comfortable in an environment and not feel like they have to attend something.”
In the interim, Sharapova is focused on her many business ventures and her work with Evian. It’s easy, she says, to speak about hydration and water — crucial aspects of her lifestyle as an athlete.
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She’s enjoyed “being supportive of Evian’s presence at the US Open, seeing them grow so much over the years and obviously seeing tons of water being provided for the players in the locker room, every single corner of the locker room, making sure that they’re staying hydrated as they play through the tournament in the heat.”